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Posted on 04.29.2010

The power of “sorry”

The-power-of-sorryMistakes happen. It’s a sad truth that anyone who works in healthcare – even those of us far removed from the frontlines – knows all too well. However, I recently caught a fascinating new documentary that made me think about patient safety in a new light.

Narrated by actor Dennis Quaid, whose newborn twins almost died as a result of an overdose of a common blood thinner, Chasing Zero: Winning the War on Healthcare Harm, provides insight into why mistakes occur and what can be done to prevent them. For example, I was fascinated to learn that a survey of board members at hospitals with poor quality performance revealed that nearly all of them regarded their quality as “above average.” As you can imagine, this kind of denial factors heavily into a hospital’s willingness to adopt systems, technology and a culture that supports patient safety. Denial can color how providers handle mistakes as well. Many providers who have erred immediately go on the defensive, avoiding direct communication with the patient or routing all contact through risk managers or attorneys. (While it should be noted that Quaid now praises the hospital that made the mistake with his twins for its willingness to enhance patient safety protocols, it’s jarring to hear him recount how he learned of the error). Though powerful in its own right, the documentary made me reflect on the Sorry Works movement, which advocates direct communication between hospitals and patients or families who have experienced harm as a result of a preventable medical error. The Sorry Works initiative encourages hospitals to:
  1. Tell the patient or family what happened in plain language;
  2. Accept responsibility as appropriate;
  3. Apologize;
  4. Describe what will be done to prevent similar events in the future.
It’s a simple, common-sense approach that has helped many hospitals reduce litigation while fostering goodwill with external audiences. Most importantly, it provides immeasurable comfort for patients and families. Though it was developed for use in a healthcare setting, any business can use these same principles to navigate a crisis. I highly recommend reading more about Sorry Works and taking the time to watch this fascinating documentary.

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